When I was four years old, we lived in a small house with an oversized front yard. I remember being home one night, and there was something off about that dark expanse. Whatever it was, it left me frightened. An eerie and deep purple twilight enveloped everything outside our bay window. I crawled up onto a furry armchair. It was warm and bright indoors. Everything waved and vanished outside the window, muddled by the snowfall. For a moment, I thought I saw movement under the orange street lamps. As soon as it came, it was gone, merged with the black backdrop of suburban Philadelphia.
“Whatcha looking at?” Grandpa asked, walking into the room. I could smell the rum on his breath.
“Don’t know,” I said, pinching my nose. Grandpa raised an eyebrow. I looked outside again, peering into the darkness. Nothing. In a snowglobe on the bookshelf, just beside the window, a plastic ballerina perched on a small hill. She looked like mom; long red hair, slender. I tear up just thinking about it, even after all these years.
She was a dancer, that much I knew as a kid. Grandpa did not approve. Back then, I thought she twirled across stages, sucking mens’ breath away like a tornado. I imagined big spotlights and cheering crowds. She had flowing red hair and gentle green eyes. A graceful flower; delicate and slim.
At fourteen, when I found out what she really did, I can’t say I was surprised. She was always out late into the night. She brought home strange men at stranger hours.
I looked up to grandpa’s loving brown eyes. I realized nothing was wrong; there was no one outside. Couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
“When will mommy be home?” I asked. It was two hours past my bedtime.
At the time I had no idea, but outside, a short man stood ankle-deep in day-old snow. He stared into our living room with beady eyes. His hands were red-tipped like paintbrushes. A jealous lover, enraptured in the ecstasy of a kill; enshrouded in night time’s blanket. His breath congealed into clouds in front of his face. A bloody knife protruded from his pocket; a clump of red hair from palms.
When the Sun came up the sky was blue and the clouds curled up and disappeared like seafoam on ocean waves. There were tracks in the virgin snow. Drag marks, and a streak of red hair next to a figure sprawled out, frozen in time. That’s all I remember; the rest is just a blur.